In the past years, I was known among my colleagues and peers here in Europe as one of the most adaptable people they have met. I do not have as many needs and wants as some people yet if problems arise, I am able to sort things out somehow. Thus, my overall supervisor from my Masters program here in Europe was able to recognize this feature as a positive trait that was dominant among us Filipinos studying in the said program. Like them, I was able to survive in different countries for the past couple of years doing so.
I was so used to “passive adjustment”. It is a way to get by through the thick and thin as how plumbers deal with broken pipes. One just needs to change some of the pipes or tighten them and the system is good to go. It was an innate quality some of us Filipinos have especially when dealing with natural disasters. This is how we Filipinos were known for around the world. Having been used to this type of treatment while encountering problems, I was not expecting that there will be a day when it won’t work in helping me deal with some of the many existential questions I have.
Last year, I was offered a doctoral position that would permanently place me in Italy. It was only in the then that I felt slowly overwhelmed with my growing problems despite my method of pushing aside anxiety and patching up some holes and irregularities. I already had my basic needs sorted out but not fairly established. I was able to find a flat yet it was too cold during the winter and too expensive for me to get by with my given allowance from the university. I was doing grocery yet in it, the sustenance was not justifiable for what my body needed. Apart from those, I wanted to stay healthy yet I had an urge to work a bit more than others in the laboratory, which was my excuse to keep on working without pushing myself for a fitter lifestyle. I had been disregarding myself initially in order to passively sustain myself, to make my life barely living. My mind was still in that mind set of barely surviving just because I was a student. Like any other person, I had my rough moments and hoped that what I am doing now would be able to give me a better future.
During the first few months, I met all sorts of people from the city itself and from different parts of the world, with the majority coming from Europe, who chose to stay here in search for a better living. Unlike the past years where I met Erasmus Mundus students or exchange students, I get to meet people who actually work and live here. They were either people who are doing their doctorate here like me, or doing some professional job. Having had some discussions with them over coffee in the afternoon or beer in the evening, I was discovering a bit on how they manage their lives while working.
Unlike the stories I hear from my friends back in the Philippines, I can see in their eyes their burning passion to live life at its fullest. Their priorities were completely different. We Filipinos on the other hand work to sustain what we think are needs such as getting a flat, a car, and so on. We wanted to build a future for ourselves. We have been too busy scurrying ourselves like rabbits while building a good rabbit hole for each of us to shelter ourselves from the outside world, one that has yet to be discovered. As for them, they wanted to embrace the uncertainties of life even if they look scary as walking through a dilapidated bridge between two mountains some kilometres high.
Then on, it just occurred to me that all these things I have been doing to keep myself alive won’t work out in the long run. I can’t always be stuck in the position where I had to choose between living a life now, and working for a “brighter future”. At this point, I had just realized that I have disregarded myself for the sake of others’ opinion of me. Furthermore I felt that I have slowly lost myself during the process of establishing myself in this world. At this point, I felt the need to set aside what I have been doing for the past months, and years, and to see what I have become and what I wanted to be. I cannot always be passive for me to cope with these issues I have. I would need to be more dynamic in dealing with problems thus I thought of some questions related to the existential realization I just had.
Like any other person, what am I preparing myself for? If I cannot calmly touch and feel the wind on my face and embrace its magnificence, what is there to live for?
There and then, I knew that this problem was not only happening to me, but to others too. Having heard from my friends talk about their lives, and dreams, I have come to realize this — our generation has become too anxious for things that can be wiped out by many forms of crises. Rather than living, we prioritize security. We have turned a blind eye of an apocalypse that has been present with us for years while growing up. At this moment, like me, many of us have already forgotten what it means to be human.
It was only when I tried to approach my existential problem in a more dynamic way that I begin to question the regularities of life. Only at this moment did it seem to me that being passive cannot guarantee us the safety net we search for. Like some problems we have over the years in the Philippines, we may have been so used to the “passive adjustment” or adaptability we have been so proud of the problems that reoccur. We have to find another way on dealing with our problems may it be an existential one like mine, or not. I guess sometimes we need to be more active in dealing with them or to look at them in other angles rather than “fixing the leaks” while ignoring the main issue that will overwhelm us as we always do.